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Jameson Cult Film Club: Lethal Weapon

Watching a film with an audience really into it is a joyous experience.

For all that cinema is a social activity that takes place in a dark room with everybody staring in the same direction, there is a lot to be said about the communal nature of the activity. Bringing together a theatre full of people to celebrate a classic film is always a worthwhile activity. A lot of the films chosen by the Jameson Cult Film Club are familiar to audience members, but there is something to be said about actually experiencing a movie like Lethal Weapon with a room full of like-minded people.

Jcfc Lethal Weapon 87Lethal Weapon is the script that established Shane Black as the most successful screenwriter of his generation. Beginning has career as an actor with bit parts in movies like Predator, Black would go on to enjoy a long and varied career as both a writer and director, churning out a rake of enjoyable and slightly off-kilter action comedies as diverse as The Long Kiss Goodnight, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Iron Man 3. As any examination of his resume will attest, Black knows his way around cynical protagonists and witty one-liners.

Watching one of his movies with a live audience really underscores how effective Black was. Lethal Weapon is hardly a radical innovation in a structural or plotting sense; however, it is meticulously and carefully timed. The laughs, the gasps, the fist-pumps… they are all meticulously timed. There are no awkward lulls in the enjoyment of Lethal Weapon. There is no extended period of the film that does not draw a strong emotive response from the audience. Black has a key understanding of these beats and a great sense of timing.

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Not even internal logic or the laws of physics can intrude on his sense of timing. Lethal Weapon ticks like a metronome. When it looks like a scene of necessary exposition has gone on too long, a helicopter appears with Gary Busey wielding an assault rifle to inject a bit of action into proceedings. It doesn’t matter that the helicopter was somehow able to sneak up silently on our protagonists; the script needed a jolt of action at that precise moment, so a helicopter and an assault-rifle-wielding Gary Busey show up to provide it.

In fact, all of the movie’s potential weaknesses are easily explained by the desire to keep a sense of momentum or to get to the next emotive beat. Lethal Weapon is less than elegant in its exposition. The audience is clumsily informed of the death of Martin Riggs’ wife through awkward dialogue from the department psychologist, while Riggs and Murtagh piece together the bulk of the villain’s plot through a number of audacious logical leaps. But it never matters, because plowing through this necessary exposition quicker allows the movie to get back to the big moments.

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The Jameson Cult Film Club seems to understand that the bulk of the movie essentially carries itself. It is hard not to get caught up in the enjoyable b-movie mania of it all (witness the hollers as the name “Gary Busey” appears in the opening credits, or the knowing laughter at the film’s gratuitous nudity), so there is no need to overwhelm the film itself with distracting setpieces. The moments at which the live action theatrics intersected with the on-screen drama were clever and precise; they never lasted longer than necessary and never distracted from the film itself.

As ever, the evening was beautifully put together, a very loving homage to a film that has earned a lot of affection and nostalgia over the years. The audience absolutely adored it, with the cheers getting louder every time that Murtagh would declare that he was getting too old for this sh!t. It was a loving celebration of a classic film, and a reminder of just how wonderful a shared experience that a film like Lethal Weapon can be.

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Also, I had completely forgotten that Lethal Weapon had a cheesy eighties love ballad theme tune. “Love is a Lethal Weapon”, indeed.

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